By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
The Bowling Green social issues theater troupe is taking its fight against juvenile sex trafficking to a new stage.
The troupe has been presenting a scene about the issue for five years, including at conferences aimed at combating sex trafficking. That production was a devised play that was worked up by cast members. The devised scene was open ended. At the conclusion the audience didn’t get a resolution but a chance to talk.
When the drama club earned $1,000 for creating a public service announcement on sex trafficking, drama teacher Jo Beth Gonzalez and the Drama Club decided to use the money to take the scene to another level, and “Lily’s Shadow” was born.
Gonzalez brought in a friend who is a playwright Roxanne Schroeder-Arce to collaborate with the students on writing a script for a one-act play based on the devised theater piece.
“Lily’s Shadow” will premiere at the Bowling Green Performing Arts Center Sunday, Oct. 29, at 3 p.m. The half-hour long play will be followed by a talk-back session about the dangers of human sex trafficking among minors.
The playwright will be in attendance.
“We hope people will give us a perspective on what they see because we hope the piece will have further life as a published piece,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said the play is fitting for children as young as 10. “We want young people to come to the play because it’s for them.” Children that young, she said, are targets of traffickers as is pointed out in the play.
Schroeder-Arce, a former high school drama teacher who now teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, traveled to Bowling Green to work with the students.
Gonzalez said she “jumped at the chance” to work with students. The scripted one-act play with more fully developed characters, a story arc, a layer of metaphor, and theme.
“The characters are much better developed and that makes it easier for the actors,” said Elaine Hudson, who is cast as a male trafficker Vic.
Recently Gonzalez and members of the cast and crew spoke about the upcoming production.
Another cast member Kat Knoell said Schroeder-Arce had them write letters in the voices of the characters to get a sense of what is going on in their minds.
They would have sessions, Knoell said, where “everyone was talking, putting out our ideas and Roxanne would incorporate them in some way into the show.”
Sometimes the author would sit there typing as they talked, and at the end she would show them a few pages of dialogue.
Gonzalez said the actor also went into the school courtyard to play a game about predatory animals to give them insight into the mindset of an animal seeking prey and the prey itself. From this developed the metaphor of the bird that’s worked into the script.
Even the play’s villain, Vic, got rounded out so he comes off as a human being not just a trafficker, Knoell said.
Hudson said that playing a male was challenging in terms of getting her body language right. “My physicality, my tone of voice, the way I use my hands, everything I wouldn’t have to think about if was playing a girl.”
She wanted to make sure she made Vic charming. He is these girls’ “boyfriend.”
“Vic is someone who’s tempting and seductive,” she said. “There’s a reason he lures girls in.”
Gonzalez noted that there are women traffickers. They have a reputation as being even more vicious then the men.
The story revolves around Vic’s recruiting of Rhonda, 15, and the reaction of her friend Avery, 15, and Avery’s sister Lily, 11.
Charlotte Perez plays Rhonda. “There’s such a dynamic difference between devised scene and ‘Lily’s Shadow’ with Rhonda in the way she acts and carries herself and talks to Vic. You can see her vulnerability. In the end she’s trafficked. She’s gone and that heightens the stakes.”
Though only 11, Lily also attracts Vic’s attentions.
The use of technology is key. Compromising photos, Gonzalez said, are a tool used by the traffickers.
The play projections of text messages as the characters are typing them. Ellie Boyle said giving technology such a prominent role in telling the story is true to the experience of teenagers.
Shadow puppetry is also employed to portray in a muted way some of the violence, Terra Sloane said. In the devised scene the audience saw Vic striking Rhonda or forcing her to take drugs. Now that’s done in the shadows leaving more to the imagination.
The only responsible adult in Rhonda’s life is her grandfather who is struggling to raise her. Justin McKenzie, who plays the grandfather, said his character has been thrust into a position of taking care of Rhonda. “Her mother is out of the picture,” McKenzie said, and the grandfather is out of his element.
His inability to navigate the digital world makes this even worst. “There’s no way he can help her.”
Gonzalez said sex trafficking is a $4 billion business. Sheriff’s deputies have told her that they have apprehended people involved in the sex trade in every hotel or motel in the county.
“Really learning about the issue does give you awareness of how much it does happen,” Sloane said.
She’s heard about it from her mother, who is a social workers, but experiencing through theater made a greater impact. “I sense it more. I’m a little more afraid of being alone. It does pose a danger.”
But attending conferences, Sloane said, has also helped educate her about how to guard against becoming a victim and what resources are available.
Alyson Baker said Bowling Green’s proximity to Toledo, a focal point for sex trafficking has made her wary. “Ever since I started working on this play. If I’m walking home at night, I’m very aware of my surroundings.
“It’s one of those things if no one brings it up, no one talks about it.”
“Lily’s Shadow” aims to make it part of the conversation in a dramatic way.